Build An Employee Relations Team That Works

How To Build An Employee Relations Dream Team

How would you describe your employee/labor relations team? Is it understaffed, overworked, under-trained or non-existent? In today’s business environment, managing Human Resources has become extremely challenging. Each person in the labor force must be engaged and motivated, as this is the only way to increase employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention rates, and keep your business union-free.

Build An Employee Relations Team

Because they play such critical roles in business sustainability, labor relations and union avoidance are no longer optional principles. Yet, even the most competent business owners may find that they simply do not have time to deal with all the complex intricacies of labor relations. For this reason, every business needs a professional labor relations expert on their leadership team.

Linking Labor Relations and Union Avoidance

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UnionProof understands the important connection between labor relations and union avoidance. The value of the knowledge and skills a labor relations expert brings to a business is reflected in current salaries. According to Payscale, employee and labor relations professionals have an earnings potential of over $100,000annually. This number was confirmed by Salary.com as recently as August 2016, with the company finding a median annual salary of over $113,000 for a Labor Relations Manager. Over a quarter of those with the job title of Labor Relations Specialist earn well over $83,000 annually. The Department of Labor occupational employment statistics report an average annual salary of $60,630, meaning hiring a labor relations expert with average experience comes with a high cost.

However, not developing positive labor relations has even higher costs should the employees unionize or if the company has to constantly respond to formal employee complaints with the NLRB, EEOC or other labor-related agencies. The potential labor problems are not worth risking, so it is important for every business to understand how to build an internal labor relations team without spending a small fortune. In the following four steps, you will read about the structure of the modern labor relations team, as well as how to write high-quality job descriptions, develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and cultivate a productive labor relations team.

Modern Employee Relations Teams

STEP 1 - UNDERSTAND THE STRUCTURE OF THE MODERN LABOR RELATIONS TEAM

There are three major functions that every modern labor relations team must manage to keep an organization union free. A “team” may consist of one person or multiple people. Larger companies may even have several teams, with each one responsible for a different function, while small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)are more likely to have one team managing all the functions. The three labor relations functions or teams are:

  1. Training Team – Responsible for the ongoing education of new hires, employees, and supervisors.
  2. Awareness Team – Responsible for raising leadership’s general awareness of employee activities that could lead to unionization, including employee grievances, vulnerability assessment, signs of organizing activity and changes to labor law.
  3. Campaign Team – Responsible for ongoing preparation, organizational and management reactions, and implementation of the anti-union campaign strategy as needed. May also be responsible for keeping up with changes to the law as they pertain to organizing campaigns.


If your labor relations team is non-existent, the first step is hiring or naming a single individual who will be responsible for these three core functions. However, as your company grows, so too will your organizational chart. For example, the organizational chart may include the following positions:

  • Manager of Employee Communication – Responsible for educating new hires and keeping existing employees and supervisors aware of the business philosophy concerning unions, as well as all relevant policies and procedures related to things like benefits, safety, promotions, compensation, layoffs, communication system usage, social media and so on. Projections offers a wealth of information on training employees in these areas.
  • Hiring Manager – Responsible for assessing job candidates, identifying “salts,” properly conducting interviews and being the first to communicate the company’s union-free philosophy. Salting is a process in which a labor union pays union organizers to apply for jobs at non-union companies. Once hired, the new employee begins the union-organizing process.
  • Employee Relations Specialist – Responsible for educating existing employees about the company’s union-free operating philosophy, current laws and the company’s reasons for remaining union-free.
  • Leadership Training Manager – Responsible for building leaders within the company, teaching those leaders to support and engage employees, improve team participation and motivate teams to achieve their greatest success.
  • Employee Engagement Manager – Responsible for conducting ongoing employee engagement surveys, managing the company’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program, interacting with supervisors on the company’s LaborLook website and informing the rest of the team should organizing activity begin.
  • Labor Relations Manager – Responsible for addressing any card signing or campaign-related activity, and managing any attempts at unionization.


Although these titles may vary from company to company, the critical point to keep in mind is that someone must have direct responsibility for managing each or all of the functions. In the beginning, you may have a single person in charge of communication, employee engagement and general labor relations. As your business evolves, you might find a need for more granular roles, such as separate managers for different employee groups, e.g., a Hiring Manager who is in charge of communicating with new hires or an Employee Engagement Manager at each production site.

Hiring An Employee Relations Team

STEP 2 - WRITE JOB DESCRIPTIONS AND KPI’S FOR EACH POSITION

Labor relations is a growing field that offers excellent and varied career opportunities. Whether you have one position or multiple positions dealing with labor relations, it is important to take time to write proper job descriptions and develop appropriate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This will ensure that each labor relations specialist knows what is expected of him or her. It is worth the time and energy it takes to develop them because it leaves no doubt as to who is responsible for what, and that helps with general employee engagement and communication. It is also important to ensure everyone is on the same page, a critical requirement for maintaining a union-proof business. A quality job description has five basic parts:

  1. General information – Includes employee name, title, level, direct reports, who the person is responsible for, type of employment, etc.
  2. Job purpose – States the objectives and scope of the position.
  3. Key responsibilities and accountabilities – Defines the duties and task performed, as well as the functional and relationship responsibilities to other employees and stakeholders, such as external HumanResources groups, in the business.
  4. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – Defines the performance measurements, setting goals and milestones that are closely aligned to the business strategy, i.e., keeping the business union-proofed.
  5. Personal characteristics – Ideal characteristics to possess for the job.


Job descriptions should be reviewed and signed by each employee, and used to guide the employee’s day-to-day work and to evaluate performance. The KPIs are important because they increase transparency and hold the manager accountable for results and for taking action when necessary. The surest path to unionization is to ignore signs of declining employee engagement.

Each job description should be unique to ensure the person filling the position understands the full range of responsibilities. The Labor and Employment Relations Association is a good source of real-world detailed position descriptions posted by companies ready to hire Labor Relations Specialists of one kind or another.

STEP 3 - RETAIN HIGH-PERFORMERS AND DISCHARGE POOR PERFORMERS

As is true for any position, an organization should retain high-performers and discharge poor performers. The following are three basic rules for ensuring the right person is in the right labor relations position:

Rule 1: Paying 5-10% Over Market Salaries + Developing Amazing Culture = Low Turnover

The last thing you want is to make a good hire for a labor relations position and have that person immediately start looking for the next opportunity. One of the secrets to building a great labor/employee relations team is creating consistency. To do that, you need to decrease turnover. A good rule of thumb is to pay more than the going rate for good people in order to create an amazing culture. 

There has been a lot of discussion as to whether an employee’s pay rate is a motivator, and, in fact, recent studies have indicated that pay does matter for engagement and retention. The U.S. Department of Commerce - Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) reported on recently tabulated Census Bureau data from the 2012 Economic Census that compared the highest and lowest paying companies in the same industry, which in this case was manufacturing. The findings were clear: The amount of employee productivity (value added to the organization) correlates to wages. Research found that companies paying higher wages per employee have more skilled workers who are more productive. It also found that savvy companies adopt other practices that cultivate a talented, dedicated workforce, such as harnessing worker knowledge to produce innovation. Firms paying more see it as “buying” increased “employee morale, lower turnover and higher productivity from employees who are committed to keeping a good job” (ESA report, page 4). Pay and engagement are clearly connected.

To determine the going market rate for Labor Relations specialists, visit sites like Glassdoor, Salary and Payscale. These companies do regular salary surveys that take the guesswork out. For example, if you are going to hire an Employee Labor RelationsSpecialist, you can use information on Payscale.com to determine the appropriate salary. Another approach is to review real job listings on Indeed.com for Employee Relations Manager positions and determine what employers are willing to pay for specific experience and job requirements. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics offers detailed salary information on a state and area basis, letting you drill down to the going rate for your location. Comparing salary scales on different sites will net you solid information.

The reason for the wide range of pay rates is that people have different experience, skills and credentials, and pay rates are influenced by location due to local demand and cost of living. If this is a new hire with no experience, you would make a salary offer toward the lower side of the scale. This information is extremely useful as you give raises to your employees as well. When yourEmployee Relations Manager approaches you to ask for a raise that will increase an annual salary to $100,000 per year, you can base a decision on questions like:

  • Did the person earn additional credentials over the last year?
  • Were additional job responsibilities added to the job description?
  • Does the job now require supervision of direct reports?
  • Is this a person the company really wants to retain?
  • Has the average salary rate changed up or down since the last raise?
  • Based on the contribution to the company and the level of training and experience of this Employee Relations Manager, does the person deserve a raise that would place them at the high end of the pay scale for this position?

Creating a supporting culture for your business is equally important, and that can mean any number of things. There are different types of cultures. Some are serious and professional, but others are laid back or casual. All should be based on ethics and corporate responsibility. Whatever it is, consider the cultural fit of each new hire. Culture is what unifies employees across the 9organization no matter where the business operates. It includes values and ethics, and how the company treats its workforce. A company that has an ethical culture that values and engages its employees is more union-proof than one that disregards the needs of its employers. Anyone who works as a Labor Relations Specialist should be a key player in supporting and strengthening a positive organizational culture.

Leaders In Employee Relations

Rule 2: Develop a Team Across the Organization

Teamwork is critical in today’s business environment. The Labor Relations team members should always be on the same page in terms of communicating and promoting a positive culture, enforcing an organization’s policies and procedures, and communicating their philosophy on unions. That means each member not only carries out his or her responsibilities, but also ensures actions taken are consistent with the work of other team members.

In turn, the Labor Relations team contributes to the development of the team of leaders across the organization. Employees should be involved in decision-making, conflicts should be addressed quickly, leadership listening skills should be refined, people should be developed to reach their capabilities, and no one should be interested in unionization because employees are fully engaged. Each person on the Labor Relations team must become a better leader, then share their knowledge and skills with other leaders in the organization.

Rule 3: When Discharging an Employee Makes Sense

Hiring a labor relations team from scratch means occasionally making the tough decision to let someone go. Not every hire will work out. Use a simple system to coach and work with members of your labor team who might not be performing to expectations. Remember the KPIs? They offer one set of measurements for assessing team performance. If employee engagement is declining or turnover rates are increasing, or if employee complaints remain unresolved, then it is likely one or more Labor Relations team members is not performing well. Consider factors like:

  • Does it now take longer to respond to internal complaints?
  • Is the customized LaborLook website outdated?
  • Is there an increase in the number of NLRB cases determined in favor of the employees?
  • Is the organization’s philosophy on unions well-communicated and reinforced?
  • Are data reports timely and useful?
  • Are employees supportive or resentful of the Labor Relations team?
  • Do employees get quick follow-up to surveys?

Terminating any employee is difficult, but it is not acceptable to have any Labor Relations Specialist not performing well. There is simply too much at stake. In fact, employee resentment of Human Resources-type employees is a major source of complaints and often a precursor to unions.

Onboarding New Employee Relations Team Members

Step 4: Dedicate One Week to Onboarding

Once you hire a person who meets the requirements in the job description, it is time to onboard the professional. The statistics demonstrate the importance of onboarding new hires. Consider the following:

  • 20 percent of employee turnover occurs in the first 45 days
  • It costs an organization 100 to 300 percent of the employee’s salary to replace that employee
  • Companies lose 23 percent of new hires before their first work anniversary
  • Onboarding increases productivity, engagement and satisfaction, and reduces turnover and job responsibility confusion
  • Onboarding is not job training, though some job responsibilities may be discussed. Rather, the new hire orientation helps to integrate the employee in the culture from day one by introducing the company’s history, mission, vision and ethics. This is critical for professionals charged with helping the organization stay union-free.

First, you’ll want to educate the Labor Relations Specialists on your organization’s union-free philosophy, then on the core values and mission of the company. For new hires, this often takes place as the last phase of the hiring process. Only then will you train them on their job responsibilities, since it can now be done in context. Employee Communications Team members should be required to learn about the resources available to help them connect with employees, including video, web and eLearning resources. They should understand the tools you have in place now and how they can be used to keep new hires, employees and supervisors on the same page with regard to remaining union-free.

Employee Engagement Team members should be required to know about conducting surveys for engagement and vulnerability purposes. They will need to learn about interacting with managers via your dedicated LaborLook website with the sole purpose of keeping supervisors and managers trained and informed about labor relations. Beyond that, they need learn how to effectively handle employee concerns. Finally, Labor Relations Management Team members must be required to understand not only current and changing labor law, but the resources available to help communicate the company’s position on remaining union-free. This education extends to corporate campaigns, neutrality agreements, ambush elections and other elements of modern organizing tactics. This includes ways to educate workers on the risks inherent in unionization, as well as running an actual organizing campaign for the company.

The leader(s) of all three functions -- training, awareness and communication -- should also complete comprehensive training on everything from the cost of unionization to union history to the NLRB, including understanding how unions work, in-depth information on organizing and, finally, on getting UnionProof.

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Build A Rock Star Employee & Labor Relations Team

This is how you develop a rock star employee and labor relations staff that functions as a coordinated team, with members all moving toward the same goals of developing an engaged, motivated and productive workforce in a union-free organization. Becoming an employer of choice and creating a culture where unions are not necessary takes a serious effort, but the payoff is an organization that has increased productivity and satisfied employees.

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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